The last eighteen months have seen the cli-fi revolution firmly take hold. Climate fiction, or cli-fi as it’s more commonly known, is defined as the genre of fiction that deals with the climate emergency.
Cli-fi novels and films have been few and far between, given that this is our generation’s defining story. But a shift has taken place over the past year and a half. In that time the genre has broken a Netflix record. In that time, numerous awards have been presented to a game-changing cli-fi novel. In that time, cli-fi has been put front and centre in the public’s imagination. This matters because great cli-fi may even lead to concerted climate action.
These are just some of the stand-out cli-fi moments that have taken place between January 2021 and June 2022.
- Don’t Look Up – Netflix’s record-breaking cli-fi movie
In December 2021, Netflix premiered Don’t Look Up, an allegorical film about the climate crisis. Written by Oscar-winning filmmaker Adam McKay, and David Sirota, the film featured an all-star cast including several Oscar winners such as Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Rylance. The comedy’s pull was so forceful that it broke Netflix records, with over 152 million streaming hours in a single week.
One thing that stood out for many people in the climate change movement is how well the film portrayed the struggle that climate activists and climate scientists have faced. The film also adds to a fairly small list of existing cli-fi movies. There is a debate about which films fall into the cli-fi category, but other potential cli-fi films include The Day After Tomorrow, The Age of Stupid (part real-life documentary, part cli-fi), Snowpiercer, Frozen, Geostorm, Mad Max: Fury Road, and WALL-E. A full review of Don’t Look Up can be read here.
- The Last Bear by Hannah Gold – The incredible multi-award-winning cli-fi novel
A significant milestone in cli-fi history arrived in early 2021 with the publication of The Last Bear by Hannah Gold (with illustrations by Levi Pinfold). The magnificent and emotional rollercoaster of a story follows protagonist April Wood who moves to a remote Arctic island with her father. However, April’s life changes when she meets a bear, one who shouldn’t be on the island, but who is trapped there as a result of the melting Arctic sea ice.
Not only did The Last Bear become the biggest selling debut hardback of 2021, but it was also named as a Saturday & Sunday Times Book of the Week. It scooped up the 2022 Blue Peter Book Award for Best Story, and the 2022 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. It was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and was shortlisted for Children’s Fiction Book of the Year at The British Book Awards 2022. The Last Bear is therefore one of the most highly decorated cli-fi books to date. It also shows that cli-fi is being taken seriously within the publishing industry.
This incredible children’s cli-fi book will be transformative for the genre. It is in my opinion the best example of cli-fi and ranks as one of my favourite books of all time. Aspiring cli-fi authors would do well to read The Last Bear – Hannah Gold is a storytelling genius and this has set the benchmark for all future cli-fi stories.
- Good Energy Playbook – The launch of a cli-fi screenwriting guide
Can cli-fi actually make a difference in the fight against climate change? Could cli-fi ultimately help save the world? The team at Good Energy believe so, and as a result they’ve put together a much-needed Playbook for screenwriters.
Bringing together over 100 climate scientists, Hollywood film specialists, climate psychologists, and climate activists, the purpose of the Playbook is to help storytellers incorporate the climate crisis into their stories. This cli-fi writer’s resource features a wealth of information, including character profiles, story ideas, and examples of cli-fi stories in novels, TV series, and films. So, whether you’re hoping to create the next big animated movie or a blockbuster cli-fi thriller, the Playbook is a perfect starting point.
- Shockwave by Wilbur Smith – Cli-fi becomes part of one of the longest running series in publishing history
In March 2022, cli-fi became part of one of the longest running series in publishing history in Shockwave. Written by Wilbur Smith and his co-author Chris Wakling, Shockwave was the third instalment in the Jack Courtney series of Smith’s children’s books, and was published posthumously after Smith’s passing at the age of 88. As Smith’s fans will know, the Courtney family saga spans many generations and centuries. It’s now been brought into the present with a climate theme running throughout Shockwave.
Both Wilbur Smith and Hannah Gold, have had their eyes on environmental issues for some time in their children’s books. The first two books in Smith’s Jack Courtney series, Cloudburst and Thunderbolt fell into the eco-fiction genre. Meanwhile Hannah Gold’s latest book, The Lost Whale, is also an eco-fiction novel that looks at the many threats our oceans face from human activities. What marks out their books is that their stories steer away from the dystopian narratives which threatened to engulf the genre.
- Imagine 2200 – the launch of Grist’s annual English-speaking cli-fi short story competition
For anyone looking to try out their hand at writing cli-fi, a perfect opportunity is available through Grist’s annual ‘Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors’ contest. This could be the stepping stone writers need to get their story into the world, which could ultimately shape our collective future. The best cli-fi short stories chosen by the Imagine 2200 judges currently feature on the Grist website, and are worth a read to get a feel for what they’re looking for in submissions.
- The Pentaverate starring Mike Myers – Netflix’s comedy cli-fi series
‘Laughtivism’ is a term used to describe something that uses comedy to shine light on an issue. A prime example being Netflix’s The Pentaverate. Co-written by comedy legend Mike Myers, the actor can be seen in no less than eight roles in this light-hearted cli-fi series, which addresses media moguls who’ve hampered action on climate change. It’s also a much-needed relief to see comedy cli-fi on TV, as opposed to dystopian/end-of-the-world cli-fi.
- Cli-fi at festivals
In October 2021, a talk at the Norwich Science Festival, was delivered on the subject of, “Cli-Fi: Exploring the Future Through Children’s Fiction” by Mitch Johnson. The scope of the talk was to explore the type of stories we should tell about the future, what the world might look like in 2050, and how stories can lead to change in the world. That cli-fi is now being given a platform at festivals is another big milestone.
In addition, while this next example doesn’t fall within the last eighteen months, the world’s first multi-day cli-fi festival was held over three days in Berlin, in December 2020. Dubbed as the Climate Fiction Festival, it included a comprehensive program exploring this growing genre. The Climate Fiction Festival website states, “Mystery novels, thrillers, science fiction, poetry, the social novel and narrative nonfiction – cli fi is literature with attitude and an open approach to the most important challenge of our time.”
It’s safe to say that not only is the cli-fi revolution here, but it’s gone mainstream. This shift is gathering pace with a plethora of publishing awards, a book within one of the longest running series in publishing history, the launch of an annual cli-fi writing contest, a record-breaking film by an Oscar-winning filmmaker starring Oscar-winning actors, a new storytelling playbook, a cli-fi slot at a festival, and the return of a comedy legend in a new streaming series. There is even speculation around an ‘International Cli-Fi Day’, which has been mooted here as being on the 20th April.
For anyone wishing to explore the cli-fi cannon in more detail, a good starting point is the book Cli-Fi: A Companion, edited by Axel Goodbody and Adeline Johns-Putra. To find a cli-fi book to read, you can check out the many cli-fi lists on Goodreads. I’ve compiled a list of tips for writing cli-fi on The Writing Cooperative. Another great resource is Ellen Szabo’s book Saving the World One Word at a Time – Writing Cli-Fi.
Now that the cli-fi revolution has arrived, we urgently need to accelerate the pace of climate stories reaching the widest possible audience. A little motivation for writers in this effort comes from Dr. Peter Kalmus’s summary in the Good Energy Playbook, “We scientists are trying. But we need more than science: we need stories. My dear writers, the tales you tell now will impact the collective future of humanity for thousands of years. The fate of our planet is in your hands.”
My new cli-fi children’s picture book is Nanook and the Melting Arctic. Nanook is a caring polar bear who lives in the Arctic. But when his igloo starts melting, Nanook must find a way to save his friends and his home. He knows that the people who can help are also those who’ve caused the problem and he must find a way to convince leaders to act on the climate crisis. You can purchase Nanook from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.